Where does this very unfair reputation come from?
Well, when I ask, I usually get two answers:
1-They wouldn’t speak English to me!
2-They never smile back!
The truth is, there is no such thing as a set in stone rude behavior. Every culture is different. Rude for some is ok to others. Normal for some is rude to others.
But let’s go back to number 1: “They wouldn’t speak English to me!”
A) it is not true for everyone and certainly when asking for a certain level of fluency (Besides us Frenchies are not the best at speaking other languages!) and
B) even if we do speak some English, it is not that nice to have someone come up and just start speaking in English, taking for granted that the French person will just understand.
I used to tell my American ex mother in law (who was part of group number 1) “Come on, can you imagine me going into a shop in Seattle, speaking to people in French, and then wondering why they are looking at me funny?” Seriously.
In fact thanks to the not so well behaved tourists, making a little effort will get you very far! Just knowing how to say a few words, a few phrases. And then of course you have the magical formulas…
Instead of just saying “Bonjour!” say “Bonjour Madame!” or “Bonjour Monsieur!”, so much more respectful and distinguished! One word makes a BIG difference!
Also, knowing that the French are all about closeness and solidarity, when you need help, advice, direction etc. don’t just ask for it. But start your sentence with “Excusez-moi de vous déranger mais j’ai un problème…” Now you have their attention, now you have shown vulnerability and now they want to help you! Youpi! By the way, what you are saying is “I am sorry to bother you but I have a problem…” How could you not want to help someone addressing you in such a way? Especially with a cute American accent! Yes we like it!
And if you are too shy to speak, you could always try this he he…
Ok now let’s look at Group number 2 who think the French are rude because they don’t smile!
It’s true we don’t smile. Not unless we know you and like you. Not unless we have a reason to do so.
I am very americanized now, I love smiling to everybody on the street here in Seattle! I just love it!
But it took me a while to get used to it AND as soon as I am back in France, I change back, without even knowing it. If someone smiles at me on the street in France, the first thing that comes to my mind is “What? What’s wrong? Do I have bird poop on my head? Did I forget to put my skirt on? Do I have food on my face? What? What? What???” In other words… “Why are you laughing at me?”
And I assure you the same goes for other French people! We will either think the smiling person is making fun of us, is a hypocrite, is stupid, or is flirting with us! The latter could definitely be fun! Especially since the French flirt pretty much non-stop. But still, it’s good to know what you’re getting yourself into!